I’ve been thinking about peace throughout Advent – unfortunately, centering on its absence rather than its presence.
I sense a lack of peace in our world, in our country, in churches and, yes, even in my own life.
In the midst of my feeling of “peacelessness,” the song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” was playing on the radio as I drove to work recently.
“And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth goodwill to men” are the words to one verse.
After the madness in San Bernardino and the attack in Colorado Springs a few days before that, I feel there were no truer words.
Hate is incredibly strong these days and does, in fact, mock the songs of “peace on earth” we hear at Christmastime.
Hearing this Christmas hymn reminded me of another song by my favorite rock band, U2, called “Peace on Earth.”
The first verse says: “Heaven on Earth, we need it now. I’m sick of all of this hanging around. Sick of sorrow. Sick of pain. Sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be Peace on Earth.”
In the last verse, Bono sings, “Jesus, this song you wrote – the words are sticking in my throat – Peace on Earth. Hear it every Christmas time, but hope and history won’t rhyme. So what’s it worth? This peace on Earth?”
After each verse of U2’s song, there is a chorus that includes the line “Jesus could you take the time to throw a drowning man a line? Peace on Earth.”
Both songs express my frustration right now. Where’s the peace? Is peace even possible? I’m beginning to have my doubts.
The Christmas songs I’m hearing that talk about peace have a hollowness to them.
Even the well-known passage in Luke 2 where the angels upon Jesus’ birth declare, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,” seems somehow out of place this Advent season, especially considering how much killing is being done in the name of God these days.
The only place I can find peace right now is in nature. I’m finding it more and more imperative for my mental and spiritual health to get into the woods.
Surrounded by God’s creation, I experience a tranquility that I don’t find elsewhere. I believe that is not coincidental.
As I experience God’s peace in the woods, I’m being led to pray more for peace. I intend for this to become a greater focus in my prayer life and I hope that is going to happen in a lot of other people’s lives too. We all need to be desperately praying for and working toward peace right now.
I have no doubt that God wills for us to know and experience peace, but it’s not happening. Like Bono, I’m sick of the sorrow and sick of the pain. I’m also sick of all the hatred and violence.
I’m sick of the polarization that has infected almost every area of our lives. I’m sick of hearing about people being killed. I’m sick of the vitriolic and divisive language I see on Facebook every day.
If we Christians are going to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are either going to have to conclude that God isn’t hearing our prayers or we are not doing our part.
I have no doubt it is the latter. When we pray (or sing), “Let there be peace on earth,” I wonder if God doesn’t repeat the words back to us.
A major newspaper used the headline, “God Isn’t Fixing This” – a reference to the rash of mass killings lately. I have a feeling the paper is right.
God isn’t fixing this, God is counting on us to fix it – to work in and through us to pursue the things that make for peace. We’ll need God’s help to do it, but if it’s going to happen it will be up to us.
I’m hoping the Prince of Peace will inspire, encourage and equip us to be the peacemakers he called us to be long ago. If we don’t fulfill this calling, I shudder to think what the future holds.
Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky. He is also a photographer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines and calendars; he has published three photography books. A version of this article first appeared on Seeing Creation, a blog that Summers co-authors with Rob Sheppard, and is used with permission.
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Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky.